Friday, 29 October 2010

The "back burner"...

A few nights ago something made me wonder about just what constitutes the contents of my mental back burner. Turns out it's a big old burner and no mistaking...

Some of the things sitting macerating there date back to my days at Art Colllege. I'd still love to make and film an installation of found objects on a beach; film it being built and then washed away by the tide, on a brilliant sunny day, add a soundtrack of summer beach sounds, and call it "All summer in a day". I'd still love to film the train journey from Charing Cross to the coast and synchronise it to the "Death and the Maiden" quartet. I'd still love to draw all the activitiy at a big theatre or concert hall; the spaces both empty and full, the rehearsals, the auditorium, the fly tower and storage areas and the stage in use and deserted...

There are stories that are ancient and stories that appeared very recently. The oldest dates back to my teens, the latest to just a few weeks ago, to a dream image of someone walking into a wood out of which blows thickly whirling snow, though there is no snow at all on the ground in the open. There are the stories I've been working on lately, and stories I have previously worked up into what I now realise was the wrong form. I've written three film scripts and three stage plays in my time and the Gods only know what possessed me to do so, since all of them would be better off re-written as straightforward narrative fiction.

I have, in total, besides "Ramundi's Sisters" and "Gabriel Yeats", both of which are finished and require only revision, another eight very promising stories, eight that are not quite ready, and eleven that are definitely not ready, but that still intrigue me. Plus three that are not fit for purpose, but have a grain of possibility lurking - a good central idea or a strong character waiting for the right home... twenty-nine healthy items all told, and three duds.

It's a slightly scary total. I've decided to make proper notes about the state of each idea, to see if that clarifies how "cooked" they are, and which ones I should start on next. Wish me luck; it's a big undertaking I've got there.

Monday, 25 October 2010

A nibble!...

A few months ago I took several metaphorical deep breaths and sent "GY" to the first of the literary agents on my list; today I heard back from her. It's a "no", which is a pity, but it's traditional for tyro writers to get many "no"s before they get a yes. So it's realistic to expect and accept a "no". The good thing is, it's a good no. Yes, there is such a thing...

Firstly, it's a personal message, not a standard response. It's clear that the agent has read the material and considered it, and then taken the time to give me some personal feedback. As I understand the business, this is pretty unusual nowadays.

Secondly, the feedback is very positive. She thinks I write beautifully and am a wonderful writer. Those are not my words - they're verbatim quotes. The problem - the reason why she's saying "no" - is not the quality but the "fantastical aspects of the plot". She's tried to sell a magic realist novel without success recently, and says she doesn't want to raise false hopes when she would struggle trying to get a me a deal.

Thirdly, she says she'd be interested in seeing anything else I have written that might have a more straightforward story.

I have of course written straight back to say "Thank you for your time and your feedback, and I may take you up on that". And I've had a reply already, saying "Best of luck and yes, please do".

So although it's a "no", I'm feeling pretty chuffed about it. I have had something moderately close to a nibble, on my first try. And I may send her "Ramundi's Sisters" when I finish revising it, since there is nothing fantastical in that plot, just a lot of painting and stifled Sicillian passion.

Monday, 18 October 2010

A constructive weekend is a Good Thing

...and this was one.

I had lunch with my stepmum Jane and went to a ballet matinee with her - the mixed bill at the Royal Ballet, including a wonderful new piece by Kim Brandstrup, a good revival of "Winter Dreams" (also sad) and a lovely bonne bouche in the form of Balanchine's "Theme and Variations" with the lovely Sarah Lamb and gorgeous Steven McRae showing off their best bravura chops.

Afterwards we sat in a café on the Strand drinking tea and eating cake, watching the world go by, and nattering. Simple pleasures like an afternoon with someone you are fond of just never seem to pall...

What else? I made a tentative start on some new writing and had a little nudge towarfds clearing a hurdle in some other, ongoing, writing.

I did my Tax Return and sent it off. Ooof! - what a relief...

I managed to charm Dan into fixing the broken light fitting in the kitchen (after a slightly fraught beginning we seem to have found a friendly modus operandi, which is good). A working light in the kitchen is very welcome as the autumn evenings close in and the mornings get dimmer.

And I did a pile of needlework; let something down, let something else out, took something else in, and mended two bras.

The ballet and lunch with Jane was probably the most fun. The writing still feels a little unsteady, as though the muse is convalescent after a bad cold. The sewing wasn't exactly fun, as it was all fine handwork and very squinty stuff, but getting a garment wearable is rewarding and the results will be very useful. The Tax Return was grim, but I feel terribly worthy and aren't-I-good now it is out of the way.

I also watched "Strictly Come Dancing" - definitely fun - "Merlin" - most definitely likewise - "The Pillars of the Earth" - fearful twaddle, but done with relish and a lot of fake dirt - "Countryfile", in which Adam bought a new ram ("I'm looking for a tup with good teeth and good testicles" says he cheerfully; the tup next to him in the pen rather sweetly hung his head as if embarrassed) - and my new dvd of "Coppelia".

That was a good weekend, I think.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Grey grey day...

It's one of those extraordinary days when the sky seems to have fallen in and be just being held up by the buildings. Low, grey banks of murky cloud are hanging as if transfixed over London. It's so depressing. I'm trying to find an upbeat forecast, but the BBC weather page just says "Grey cloud" repeatedly for the next twenty-four hours.


Grey days make me feel grey.

Last night I wasn't grey - I came out of the Festival Hall after hearing an electrifying performance of Walton's First Symphony; some of the most energising music out - I felt rather as if I'd had several double espressos. Not quite the right way to feel on your way home to bed; but a brilliant performance of a thrilling piece of music. The opener, a new piece by Magnus Lindberg, was also pretty damn' hot, though I was less happy with the very cool and technically-flashy rendition of the Mendelsohn Violin Concerto. I like my violin concerti to be more emotional than that... The LPO were on cracking form, anyway (ooh those timpani!) and I think I may have a wee little crush on Osmo Vänskä...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Quick plug for an interesting idea...

I just have to plug this - the "How Publishing Really Works" site led me to it, but it strikes me as a terrific idea.

I type slowly enough that my creative juice has become able to cope with occasional halts for spelling corrections and so forth; they don't really break the flow as it is so sluggish to begin with! But as for those tense moments when what stops me is some infelicity of phrasing, some paragraph that doesn't quite sound right - for those nerve-grating times I think this could be a trick worth trying. It's rather like the "Just write something" idea, but more subtle.

Letting the inner editor, as Andy Shack calls it, step up is not just a problem, for me; I think it is also a tacit procrastination tactic. If every time I am working on something, whether it be writing, drawing, painting or what, I let this inner nag lean over my shoulder whispering "That isn't much cop, you'd better fix it or there's not much point in going on", then I am setting myself up to stop and drop everything. And that is simply stupid.

So I will be trying the "hash key" technique; and if I start doing any more developed painting or drawing, I'll be looking for a visual equivalent, too.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Playing catch-up...

There's never enough time in the day, it seems sometimes (for example, I wrote most of this in my lunch hour but have had to save it & finish it after work). Yesterday in my lunch break I had meant to write about my first ballet outing of the season, the Royal Ballet production of Cranko's "Onegin"; and about gardening, and about the Muse having popped up and given me a wee nudge which may, just may, develop into something interesting. But I didn't have much time after picking up calls because it was busy, and then I got sidetracked into writing a hymn to the beauty of the Wetland Centre. Which is beautiful (and I'm happy to promote it - I don't feel obligated to avoid mentioning other west London visitor attractions just because I work at one) but my glorious Sunday afternoon there was not my whole weekend by any means.

"Onegin", on Friday evening, was terrific. Although they've had it in their repertoire for eight or ten years the Royal Ballet don't do it very often for some reason. Perhaps it doesn't put bums on seats the way "Romeo and Juliet" does, and the big nineteenth century classics obviously do. Also, unlike most of these, it doesn't have many of those juicy bit parts that give soloists a chance to step up and shine briefly. It does need five strong dancers who can not only dance but also act, though. With the best will in the world, some of the RBs current principals (naming no names!) can't act for toffee. Luckily I got some who could.

The plot of the ballet follows the opera fairly closely (I've never read the original Pushkin poem, so can't comment on how closely either adaptation resembles it). But it is such an eternal and human story that it bears repetition and re-rendering in different genres. A naive girl falls catastrophically in love with a man who isn't interested in her. Years later, they meet again and he realises what a fool he was to reject her love. He appeals to her, only for her to reject him this time. There's also an even more tragic secondary plot about her sister and his friend, whose lives are destroyed as a result of this primary plot situation. It's all pretty emotional stuff.

I was incredibly touched by the Tatiana of Laura Morera; she may not have the fame, or perhaps quite the diamond technique, of Alina Cojocaru, but her acting is if anything even more nuanced. Watching her grave, quiet face slowly come alive as she succumbs to the fascination of the attractive stranger, and her tight, reined-in desperation in the Act 2 party scene, when she has to put on a social face in front of the man who has broken her heart, my usual identification with the character moved up several notches. I am Tatiana (as poor Tchaikovsky said at one point) - I've been there, I know exactly what she is going through, and my heart bleeds for her every time I see this story. And it's quite an achievement, incidentally, to be so credibly gauche at the beginning while still dancing superbly. I've also never seen the tenderness in the pas de deax with Prince Gremin come across so strongly, or the absolute agony of the final duet with Onegin. I didn't expect it, but I think I have now found my definitive Tatiana. She was wonderful.

It was good, too, to see Federico Bonelli get his teeth into something with a bit of dramatic potential. I've previously seen him either in abstract work or in pieces where he plays the Handsome Prince and has nothing to do except look gorgeous and rise above his wig (I'm thinking "Nutcracker" here), and partner the ballerina beautifully. Given a part that requires him to do more, he seized the opportunity; he is a lovely dancer, clean and smooth and strong, and I now know he is also a very capable actor. That pirouette-ending-in-a-stamp move just before the duel in Act 2 scene 2 can look silly - or creepily childish - here it was a real outburst of bodily fury. He managed to convey both Onegin's charm and attractiveness to Tatiana and at the same time the self-absorption that she is too infatuated to see.

Part of the way through the letter scene someone in the audience began to shout and scream (apparently it was a woman whose husband had been taken ill); although the noise must have been deeply disruptive to their concentration, both leads carried on their duet with admirable aplomb. Bravo to both for that, too.

Olga was danced by Melissa Hamilton, and she was a delight. Each time I see her in action she seems to grow, both technically as a dancer and in stature and feeling as a dramatic performer. Luckily not physically, though - she's on the tall side to begin with. But her fresh beauty and her youth and enthusiasm suited Olga beautifully, and I was struck by the way that at Lensky's death, instead of the regular ballet-swoon posture, she really collapsed to the stage, then slowly curled into a foetal position - it was painfully realistic.

Her Lensky was my one doubt; Sergei Polunin is technically terrific, but I found him rather uncertain dramatically. He just didn't really seem to be as emotionally involved as the other three principals. By gum, he can't half dance, though. Very ornamental, too, especially if you like a fella with cheekbones! Still, on the ornamental front, I'll take Prince Gremin - my favourite, Gary Avis, giving his usual superbly nuanced and detailed performance and looking thoroughly noble in uniform.

The other main activity of the weekend, apart from that blissful afternoon at the Wetland Centre, was planting about 300 spring bulbs in the garden, and taking down the bean bines. Apart from pruning and tidying, that is my main autumn garden jobs done. I found about fifteen fat, woody, over-ripe bean pods, enough to get plenty of seeds for next year and hopefully some spare to share with friends (so let me know if you want to take up growing climbing French beans).

The Muse resurfaced briefly and has left a little idea fomenting in my brain. It's an opening line. A single sentence; but I can see where it leads (= to something running to three volumes or more) and I'm not sure I feel strong enough. I thought I had worked the urge to write multiple-volume heavy-duty fantasy novels out of my system as an adolescent, and it feels a bit strange to have one coming to a simmer like this.

It fascinates me, when I step back and detach from worrying about the actual creative activity itself, how many ideas my brain is capable of storing on the back-burner at once. Well over thirty ideas are sitting there biding their time; novels, drawing and painting projects, even a couple of arty videos I'd like to make. And I talk about there not being enough time in the day already! It's alarming, and bizarre.

And then I end up, as I did last night, putting the tele on, channel hopping and finding a good movie - "Aeon Flux" - on Film Four, and just sitting on my btm allowing myself to be entertained. I gather that if you were a fan of the animated original show or the computer game version of "Aeon Flux" it is considered correct to loathe the film. I'm not, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It looked great (and isn't overloaded with CGI effects, which is refreshing in a contemporary SF film); the script wasn't too bad and the basic ideas were actually quite good; it has lovely strong capable women characters and plenty of eye candy for everyone (Charlize Theron and Sophie Okonedo, both periodically with not many clothes on, as a splendid team of female assassins; Marton Csokas looking rumpled and sexy as a troubled dictator) and it's very well acted. It's just a pity about the main characters' names. To me, "flux" is a slightly archaic term for dysentery; and no-one, surely, can take entirely seriously a dictator called Trevor...

I can't reject letting myself be entertained; films like this leave me with mental images that go into all those metaphorical pots on the back of the stove of my creative mind, and meld their juices together (what a terrible extended mixed metaphor!). And it was good fun, anyway.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Autumn beauty

What a beautiful creature the humble moorhen is. I spent yesterday afternoon at the London Wetland Centre in Barnes. It was a glorious autumn day, with a perfect blue sky and golden, slanting sunlioght pouring down on the lakes and marshes and the shimmering purple and gold of the reedbeds. I didn't see anything rare, but I didn't care (I'm not much of a twitcher, though I do like spotting the odd bittern in the winter). There were lots of beautiful native and migrant birds - teal, wigeon and shoveller ducks, Canada and greylag geese, mute swans, lapwings, and hundreds of coots and moorhens. Seen close-to, the common moorhen is an exquisite bird, sleek and slender in its quakerly black and white plumage, with that wonderful ruby-red bill and front, and huge, wavy-looking green feet. (The photo is not mine, I'm afraid, but was pinched off a website called Birds of Oklahoma - it is the same species as we get in the UK, though, and it's a lovely pic).

Visiting the Wetland Centre always gives me a touch of heartache for the Kent marshes near where I used to live; Oare, Reculver, Seasalter, Sandwich Bay, and the huge skies and sweeping horizons of Romney Marsh. If I were a millionaire (unlikely, but still...), I'd buy a house on Romney Marsh, and have those big skies all about me for the rest of my life...

Friday, 8 October 2010

One other wee thing...

...that I forgot to mention about Faust; the Walpurgisnacht scene. Dear oh dear, what a tame affair. About sixteen hessian-clad zombies sat around a long table, eating pieces of steel cable and mixing cocktails. If it had been meant ironically, somehow, it would have made more sense, but I have a horrible feeling this genteelly surreal drinks party was meant to be scary.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

An odd few days

It’s been a patchy couple of days. On Wednesday I threatened to deck my new house-mate Dan, after hearing his views on my beloved garden (untidy, needs to be cleared up properly) and his opinion of my belief that actually I have been gardening (“Really?!?” uttered in a tone of mixed disbelief and amusement). He likes things to be neat. I don’t do neat; I do a sort of cottage garden/biodiversity fusion. I have struggled for eighteen months with deep shade, a thick undergrowth of pernicious weeds and a recalcitrant, concrete-dry soil of mixed London clay and builders’ rubble. I am proud of the fact I now have dahlias, aquilegias, alyssum, erigeron, Ceratostigma wilmottianum, Alchemilla mollis and Campanula persicifolia all flourishing there, and there are worms in the soil, and self-sown lunaria and feverfew popping up.

It does not need “tidying”. It needs a lot of soil improver, and more tough perennials and spring bulbs, all of which I am working on; and lots and lots of of TLC. Not “tidying”. If he tidies my garden I’ll scrag him.

Not a calming mood to be in. It’s odd to come close to losing one’s temper; I so seldom do (maybe once in a decade?). I will, of course, have to make peace with Dan. But I saw red when he said “Really?!?” like that. He’s lucky I only threatened to deck him.

Then there’s the fact that our landlady still hasn’t come round to see the house, over a week after the break-in. I find that weird, and frankly a bit nasty; she couldn’t make it clearer that we are just a cash cow if she tried. A cash cow that has now cost her money (locksmith’s fees are painful) instead of making money for her.


Last night I went to Gounod’s “Faust” at the ENO, hoping for a good evening out, and was basically disappointed. The director had some good ideas, but hadn’t always known how to develop them, and he had committed one of my favourite directorial sins by not checking the sightlines from the balcony. What I gather were often immensely visually effective stage images were near-invisible from where I sat, as they were hidden behind the proscenium arch. As I was only in row D, I felt short-changed. I can understand a director thinking “I can’t fix this so every seat in the house can see it, damn it” – but virtually the entire balcony? – that’s just cheeky.

There were some good ideas, although it would irritate my more scientific friends. Faust had been turned into a 1940s physicist and there was a very clear inference that he had made a pact with the devil already simply by doing science. I think he was meant to be regretting the military use of his work (we got Fat Man and Little Boy hanging from the ceiling at one point) - but this was one of the moments where I gather there were back projections at the rear of the stage, which were lost on me, so I may have missed the subtleties. But the updating made the timing of Faust’s return to his younger days very effective; this man’s youth had been spent in the run-up to the First World War, making Margeurite’s extreme innocence and the Victorian attitudes of her neighbours and her brother still seem credible.

It was also true to the religious elements of the original, which the Covent Garden production six years ago struggled with. Mephistophiles was indeed weakened and beaten back by the sign of the cross, as the libretto directs, and was defeated in his attempt to win Margeurite’s soul by her grim, dazed clinging-on to faith in God’s ultimate compassion. The Covent Garden production was so determined to mock the whole idea of religion that it had Mephistophiles wearing a crucifix and laughing in amusement at those credulous fools who think the Almighty gives a damn about them. I’ve nothing against the sharp comment this made about hypocrisy; I’m sure that in any period of history, including Gounod’s time and certainly my own, there have been people who made an ostentatious display of their religion while in their lives doing the opposite of what this vaunted faith teaches. But Mephistophiles is meant to be more than this; he is a symbolic figure, symbolic of the deepest, most profound evil, not a mere hypocritical libertine.

I liked Mephistophiles, though, which I’m not sure Gounod would have approved of. Iain Patterson is blessed with a big, smooth voice and buckets of stage presence – he was a splendid Amonasro a while back and I’m really looking forward to seeing him as Don Giovanni in November. For a big man, he’s startlingly graceful, and this was used cleverly - as if the energy within this tall and burly body were something slightly unearthly that could not be completely confined within human form. The devil certainly had the best tunes, and the best moves, this time, and he made the most of them.

Toby Spence looked good but moved awkwardly, as if his clothes were uncomfortable, and sounded as though he were pushing himself vocally. I never expected to be less than happy with him in anything; I hope he was not sickening for something. The Marguerite, Melody Moore, was a better actress than she was a singer; rather lacking in vocal sparkle and light, only just coming into her own by the prison scene. There wasn’t much chemistry between her and her lover, either, which hampered things rather.

So things at home are bit off, and “Faust” wasn’t much cop, and I’m a bit muddled and miz and patchy, really.

Such is life.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A little autumn stroll

I went out for a walk after lunch.

It amazes me sometimes how different twenty minutes in the Gardens can make me feel. Colour and light and fresh, damp, scented air... Autumn crocuses lying prostrated by the rain, their lilac and cerise clashing with each other and with the grass. The first fall colours appearing on maples and acacias. Nerines poking up their Schiaparelli-pink spikes everywhere. In the Princess of Wales Conservatory, the graceful crowns of tropical waterlilies, cerise, violet, cream and gold, are still floating in the black water among dark lily pads. Huge, fantastical bromeliads, alocasias and anthuriums spring up or hang down, everywhere you look. The lithops are flowering, the giant Agave abrupta is still going through the roof and a Titan arum is getting ready to do its thing...

It's cool and misty, a classic autumn day, but in that balmy warmth of the glasshouse I can pretend I am in another place, another time... another world, maybe.

Monday, 4 October 2010

...and a good weekend

One very constructive weekend later:
I have mended my broken doorframe – admittedly my father and grandfather would have chuckled at the bodge-job I’ve made of it, but at least it is nailed in place again now instead of hanging loose and tripping me;
I have turned out all my winter clothes and put away all my height-of-summer clothes;
I’ve turned out the linen shelf (since I was turning out the rest of the cupboard anyway);
I’ve also cleaned and put away my sandals and got out all my winter shoes;
Cleaned my bedroom floor;
And planted about half my spring bulbs, in the rain - getting very muddy in the process.

What a bunch of early-autumn jobs!

I have a touch of backache today, as that was a lot of bending and stretching and crawling around on my knees. Now I’m off to find a bus to Brentford and have tea with a friend.

Friday, 1 October 2010

A packed week

Well, this has been a surreal week. Mostly good, except for the house being broken-into on Wednesday evening. It sounds surreal even to say it. But it truly would have been a good week if it hadn’t been for the burglary. Even that has a good side, for me at least, because mysteriously but blessedly my bedroom door alone withstood the crowbars and did not get broken down, so I didn't get robbed and trashed.

I'd spent the weekend in Kent, down at my Mum’s. We had a splendid afternoon in a nature sanctuary near Sandwich Bay and went to a Food Fair where we bought and ate far to much in the way of gorgeous edibles from all over Europe; biscuits, mustard, onion chutney, smoked garlic, sweets, cider, mead, vegetables, bread, cake, pies, nuts, wine, olives…

On Sunday I went to a fabulous performance of “Tristan und Isolde” at the Festival Hall, with the sort of cast one could die dreaming of, including a fantastic American tenor named Gary Lehman who I’d never heard of before but will now watch out for. You wait years for a good Wagner tenor and then two turn up! – what with this chap and Stuart Skelton, I have the happy thought that Tristan, Siegmund at al are safe and secure for another generation. Well, a happy thought for a person with tastes like mine, anyway – I do realise not everyone cares a hoot if there are any good heldentenors about…

On Monday I went to a funny and touching Farewell Talk by someone at Kew who is retiring after 40 years (& who will be much missed). Then I had fish and chips, another good thing in my book. Tuesday I actually went home and cooked my own supper, finished re-reading “The Enchanted April”, and had an early night. On Wednesday I went with three colleagues for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Tropical Nursery with one of the Kew diploma students, which was fab. The Tropical Nursery is a simply gorgeous place packed to the rafters with, as the name suggests, tropical plants, of every kind imaginable including the very beautiful and the very weird.

That evening I’d managed to pick up a returned ticket for an Open Rehearsal at the Royal Ballet, so I then charged into the west End, eating sarnies on the tube, and spent an hour and a half watching Kim Brandstrup working on his new ballet with Ed Watson and Leanne Benjamin, two of my very favourite dancers. Then I went home and found the front door hanging wide open, the lock busted, Jennie standing in the hallway trying not to hyperventilate, and the place in chaos.

The front door had been broken open with a crow bar and so had Jennie’s bedroom, while Bethan’s room, where the door doesn’t even close properly, far less lock, they had simply walked into and turned upside down. They’d had a damned good go at my door as well, but it has a stouter lock and somehow it withstood the assault, though half the door frame has been ripped off. There was a heck of a mess everywhere and the girls had both had all their small portable valuables, like laptops, i-pods, jewellery and so forth, taken.

We were like three shell-shocked soldiers, incoherent with disbelief and stress. Jennie’s boyfriend Andy came straight over when she called him, and was a rock, as was Beth’s brother, who she had been out with for the evening. As for me, I had to be my own rock, but I’ve had plenty of practice at that, after all.

We were up till about 3 am, what with ‘phone calls, hysterics, and then police and more police… Matters were made worse by the fact that neither of the others had ever been a victim of a crime before, so they hadn’t a clue what to do or what would happen. I felt a little weird saying “Oh, I have, several times...”. Purse stolen x3, Assaulted x2, Home broken-into x1, Bicycle stolen x1. It’s interesting, in a horrible way, to realise the feelings of insecurity and vulnerability that come after being robbed or attacked don’t get any easier with the greater experience. I still feel like a jelly whenever I think of it, and I didn’t lose anything… I also seem to have a sort of survivor’s guilt; I ought to be delighted that my room wasn't entered, but it’s really quite uncomfortable to be the only one who didn’t lose anything.

Then more hassles the next day (mercifully I was told I could take the day off); trying to get some sense out of the landlady, finishing clearing up, trying to have a rational conversation about something this upsetting, getting a new Chubb lock fitted on the front door, and generally trying to get our respective heads around things. As well as the mess there was fingerprint powder everywhere, which turns out to be strangely clingy stuff; I have a towel thick with it in my washing basket now.

I also got mistaken for a bloke while queuing outside the public loos at Sainsburys, when I went out to get some yoghurt and a time switch for my big lamp. Grr; talk about adding insult to injury.

It always baffles me when I am mistaken for a man. I’m a bl**dy double-D cup, for crying out loud. I do not expect to have to say “Actually I don’t use the gents, I am a woman”, and nor should any woman with good, big, perky boobs. Like mine.

So yesterday was spent getting things sorted out, and then in the evening I made myself go out, as it was my one chance to see my Aunt Juliet, my darling Dynamo-Auntie from Oz. She was in London for two tourism-packed days; she’s now in Paris, then on to Venice, then Florence, and then a week on the Nile before she flies home to Adelaide again in three weeks time.

She’s my favourite aunt, as she was my late father’s favourite sister, and she never seems to change; although we only ever see one another every three or four years, I always spot her instantly. The exact same spruce, cropped-haired, colourful figure as ever came bounding towards me and, keyed up as I was, I nearly cried as we hugged. Juliet was the perfect person to see, full of warmth, common-sense and humour. We had a stiff drink followed by a light supper, and we talked and talked and talked.

And then - I went to a concert. I was determined to hold out against the urge to hurry home and check everything was safe. I had booked a ticket and I was going to use it, god damn it.

I was rather surprised when “Finlandia” made me cry, as normally I find it buoyant, rousing stuff. Something to do with being at such an emotional pitch, and all the timps, and having seen Juliet, and talking with her about my Dad. The Beethoven was lovely (good grief, Helene Grimaud is so small; I never expected to see a pianist so tiny) and the Lemminkäinen symphony (if it isn’t technically a symphony it might as well be) was simply superb. Dear Philharmonia, knocking my socks off once again. And of course, the house was all fine when I got home.

I'm planning a quiet weekend, though. I think I ran on pure adrenaline for twenty-four hours straight; I have felt completely shattered today. I know this sense of anxiety will pass, and the best thing I can do to help it is to be gentle with myself, and as normal as possible in my life. In the name of which, on with the weekend motley, and homeward with me, via M&S for some groceries and perhaps a bottle of wine – I think we all deserve a drink.